A reader contacted me recently about this Slate article naming North Dakota as one of 29 states which allows citizens to direct revenues to pro-life organizations by registering specialized license plates. The article was based on a July report from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute.
I didn’t even know these plates existed in North Dakota.
I got in touch with the North Dakota Department of Transportation on the issue and, sure enough, there is a “choose life” license plate available in North Dakota but it’s just one of several specialized organizational plates which are available to any non-profit group. And the plates aren’t exactly a windfall for the one pro-life group that has registered one.
I wrote about it over at Watchdog today:
North Dakota Department of Transportation officials confirmed the practice, but noted the North Dakota Right To Life Educational Trust was one of 10 organizations receiving revenues from specialized plates, for which any nonprofit group can apply.
According to department spokeswoman Jamie Olson, there are now 160 vehicles in the state with specialized “choose life” license plates.
Each registered owner pays an additional $15 per year in fees for the plate, on top of the standard registration fee, resulting in approximately $2,400 per year in revenues for the group.
Other groups with similar arrangements are Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants for the Future, the North Dakota Impact Support our Veterans Fund, an organization assisting the disabled called HIT, Inc., and alumni associations for Minot State University, North Dakota State University, Valley City State University and Dickinson State University.
These sort of issue plates have been controversial in other states, but North Dakota seems to avoid that controversy by keeping the plates open for pretty much all non-profit groups:
The legality of these plates has been questioned in other states. In North Carolina, federal courts struck down a state law allowing specialized pro-life license plates because the state didn’t also allow license plates portraying an opposite point of view. The case is currently being re-examined in light of a 5-4 Supreme Court decision finding that the Texas didn’t violate the First Amendment in denying a specialized license plate celebrating the Confederate flag.
North Dakota, however, hasn’t given specific permission for specialized plates to any specific organization. According to DOT guidelines, any organization with tax exempt status recognized by the federal Internal Revenue Service may apply to have the state issue organizational plates. There is a one-time $1,500 fee for the application, and the design of the plate must be approved by the director of the motor vehicle division. A minimum of 50 vehicles must be applying for the organizational plates for the application to be approved.
Olson told me that to her knowledge no other group advocating a position on the abortion issue has applied for a specialized plate in North Dakota, but I’m assuming that if a pro-abortion group wanted to register one they could.